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Learning and Developmental Theory in Education

Learning is thus the main process that occurs in education, and scholars have paid much attention to studying this process and explaining its major moving forces (Behavioral Psychology, 2008). Albert Bandura’s social learning theory, put in the context of the developmental, environmental, and crossover theories, is one of the most notable cognitive learning theories in education. It encompasses all the possible spheres of human activity directed at learning and cognition and offers the most efficient ways to facilitate learning. This paper will focus on the consideration of all the four aforesaid theories with the special emphasis on the practical implementation of Bandura’s theory in the classroom.

To begin with, the developmental theory of learning is one of the most popular ideas in the scholarly world. The most notable scholars that contributed to the development of this theory are Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kholberg, and Eric Erikson. The former is the author of the cognitive development theory consisting in the four major stages. They are sensorimotor period lasting between 0 and 2 years and consisting in spatial adjustment to the world and understanding of its basics, preoperational period (age 2 – 7 years) when children acquire language skills and shape their own psychological portraits, concrete operational period embracing the year between 7 and 11 when logical thinking is acquired, and the formal operational period which characterizes the whole life of a person from the age of 12 and on, and determines a person’s ability to analyze information and make respective logical conclusions (Behavioral Psychology, 2008). Kholberg’s theory stipulates 3 major stages of the moral development of a personality which are pre-conventional, conventional and postconventional. During them, a person adjusts everything to his/her personal interests, to social norms and to the interrelation of both respectively. They result in the formation of a personality. Finally, Erikson defines eight stages of the personal psychological development: infancy (birth – 18 months), toddler (18 moths – 3 years), pre-school (3 – 5), school (5 – teenage), adolescence (teenage – 20’s), young (20’s – 40’s), middle (40’s – 60’s), and late adulthood (60 and on). According to these stages, people develop in the context of trust/mistrust relation in their lives (Behavioral Psychology, 2008).

However, other scholars consider environment to be the determinant factor in cognitive and social development of a personality. Pavlov, Thorndike, and Skinner are the brightest representatives of the environmentalist view of learning and development. According to Pavlov, a response is environmentally conditioned by a reward or a punishment. Pavlov’s experiments with the rewards given to digs and conditioned by the light switches prove the environmental nature of learning processes. Thorndike’s view is focused on the so-called Law of Effect formulated as “Learning = behavior + consequences”. Thorndike has modified Pavlov’s ideas in the sense that he proved his theory by rewarding a cat that learns how to escape from a cage by pressing a lever. Finally, Skinner managed to develop Thorndike’s achievements further by inventing the “Skinner Box” that gave the experimental animals a free choice of either acting to get a reward or not (Behavioral Psychology, 2008).

Finally, the cross-over theories are the ones admitting the influence of both developmental and environmental factors upon a person’s cognition. Among them, William Glasser’s choice theory, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development theory, and Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory should be mentioned. The first one is the view according to which, motivation is a purely internal phenomenon conditioning learning and cognition. It is focused on the concept of the Inner Quality World of every person and pictures they have in it, i. e. in their imagination about how the events and processes of reality should be. In accordance with it, people build their relations with the environment and learn. Further on, Vygotsky develops this view saying that every person has his/her zone of proximal development (ZPD), i. e. the difference between the learning they can accomplish without help and the learning that requires help anyway. To exemplify this view, Vygotsky speaks of a child who learns to walk and speak by observing adults but needs help in acquiring special knowledge in science, etc (Behavioral Psychology, 2008). Nevertheless, the most important and respectable theory of learning and development that belongs to the cross-over direction is the theory formulated by Albert Bandura and called Social Learning/Cognitive Theory (Chapter 31, 2009).

According to Bandura (2001), “social cognitive theory distinguishes among three modes of agency: direct personal agency, proxy agency that relies on others to act on one’s behest to secure desired outcomes, and collective agency exercised through socially coordinative and interdependent effort.” (p. 1) Moreover, the theory by Bandura is characterized by such concepts as observation, imitation, and modeling that can be paralleled with the ideas of attention, retention, and motivation. In other words, people learn a behavioral pattern through observing others adopting this pattern and experiencing the social reaction to it (Chapter 31, 2009). The success of learning depends on the potential punishment or rewards, positive or negative attitude of the society to the pattern in question. Special importance in this theory is also attributed to the concept of “identificatory event” which “is defined as the occurrence of similarity between the behavior of a model and another person under conditions where the model’s behavior has served as the determinative cue for the matching responses” (Bandura, 1969, p. 217) meaning that an identificatory event is a case of observation and subsequent modeling a person conducts while learning.

Needless to say, Bandura’s theory can be used to interpret the learning process in the classroom (Bandura, 1993). First, the observation, imitation, and modeling concepts are realized in the classroom through the direct interaction of a teacher serving as a model for learning and students as the learners. Visualization, handouts, and practical participation in the assignments can be viewed as the examples of observation and imitation in the classroom, while placing the knowledge acquired in a personal context can be viewed as modeling (Bandura, 1993). Accordingly, attention, retention, and imitation are also considered basic for the success of in-class learning. In respect of behavioral learning, these concepts are also applicable as personal example oriented on students’ observation and modeling are the best ways teachers can find to encourage proper behavior in class, especially concerning the younger students. In this case, the moment of observation and behavioral modeling experienced by students is their identificatory event, i. e. the episode when they identify the observed behavior as a proper one and identify themselves with the model of this behavior (Bandura, 2001).

So, learning and cognition are viewed by scholars in the developmental, environmental, and crossover directions. Bandura’s theory, viewed in the context of these directions, is one of the most comprehensive views on learning. Social learning theory by Bandura encompasses both internal, i. e. developmental, and external, environmental, aspects of a personality development and cognition. The concepts of observation, imitation, and modeling, as well as the idea of identificatory events, explain learning in general and its practical development in the classroom.


Bandura, A. (1969). Social-Learning Theory of Identificatory Process. In D. Goslin (Ed.), Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research (pp. 213 – 262). Rand McNally & Company.

Bandura, A. (1993). Perceived Self-Efficacy in Cognitive Development and Functioning. Educational Psychologist, 28(2), 117-148.

Bandura, A. (2001). SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY: An Agentic Perspective. 1.

Behavioral Psychology. (2008). Major Behavioral Psychology Theories and theorists of Learning. Web.

Chapter 31. (2009). Social Learning Theory of Albert Bandura. Web.


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